Shaobo suddenly thought of something, sat up straight and asked Xia Xun:
“How could Little Master come to the capital? Where do you live now? No, it’s not safe to live anywhere! Just stay in the embroidery workshop, and this slave will take care of you!”
Xia Xun hesitated whether to tell her what happened.
“Although few people in the capital remember the Xia family, Qi Yan is still there. If he finds out, I am afraid, Little Master, you will lose your life!”
Xia Xun swallowed the words he planned to say and changed the topic:
“…Anyway, I didn’t usually go out of the house to walk around, so not many people knew me seven years ago. Now I’m afraid there are very few who still remember my appearance. I… I’ve come to the capital because I had something to do. I have lived in an inn these past few days. You have a lot of people here, it is not a quiet place. Besides, it was not easy for you to gain a foothold. If someone knows that you were involved with the Xia family, you’ll be ruined.”
Shaobo said proudly:
“This slave is not afraid! No matter what cow demons and snake spirits there are, I dare them to come to Raobi’s Garden and cause trouble!”
Xia Xun looked at her and could see no trace of the little girl who only knew how to cry. She was bright and scathing, truly the number one embroideress in the capital.
Xia Xun looked at her with a smile:
“Don’t call yourself a slave anymore. I also shouldn’t call you Shaobo, I should call you Madam Raobi.”
Shaobo was worried:
“Is Little Master really not staying?”
Xia Xun deliberately said:
“Don’t think that you are the only one who has become stronger. If I don’t have the ability to protect myself, would I dare to come to the capital?”
“Raobi’s Garden has taken in many homeless women. If they hadn’t needed the protection of this slave, this slave would have given up everything and go to Lingnan with Little Master!”
Xia Xun pretended to be proud and said:
“Don’t underestimate me. My eldest brother and I have been doing business all these years. Not to mention the wealth, we can also be regarded as famous merchants in Douzhou. I am rich! Not poorer than you!”
Shaobo looked at him for a while, and finally smiled. She wiped away the tears, smoothed the messy hair on her temples, got up and bowed in front of Xia Xun. Every movement of hers was dazzling and beautiful.
She changed back to the stern Madam Raobi.
“I wonder if the young master here has some wish?”
Xia Xun sat upright and said seriously:
“Xiong Qian, a wealthy merchant in the capital, gets married today. The wife he is about to marry is the former wife of my eldest brother. If the newlywed wife can get a hairpin from Madam Raobi, my wish will be fulfilled.”
“This servant understands the sincere heart of the young master. You don’t need to worry. I will immediately send the most gorgeous flower hairpin made by Raobi to Xiong Mansion. It will definitely not miss the auspicious time.”
Xia Xun thanked her: “I am deeply grateful, Madam.”
He took out Qi Yan’s purse but his hand was pressed down by Raobi.
She said sincerely:
“When this servant was young, she was rescued by the young master, but did not repay her debt. Even if I had to give the entire embroidery workshop to you, I would not hesitate. Why regret a flower hairpin? What’s more, Xiong Mansion has sent someone with a box of gold ingots, and I will accept it.”
Xia Xun no longer refused.
“Madam is a generous and clever woman. I have nothing else to wish for but one thing. I wish Madam a smooth life. I shouldn’t disturb you further, so I will leave.”
Raobi walked with him out of the embroidery building. Before Xia Xun left, she asked:
“The young master and this servant… might there be a chance to meet each other again?”
Xia Xun said calmly:
“People of the human world always have a chance to meet each other. Madam doesn’t have to force it. Madam will always be remembered in my heart. That’s enough.”
He bowed to Raobi and walked away.
Raobi followed him with her gaze; his thin figure mixed into the crowd and disappeared after a while.
That night, Qi Yan was working in the study when there was a knock on the door. He said without looking up, “Come in.”
It was not Qi Hui or any other of Qi Mansion’s servants, but Xia Xun.
“Why are you here?” Qi Yan was surprised and delighted. He never thought Xia Xun would take the initiative to come to him. He put down the document in his hand and led Xia Xun to the tea table: “Where’s the gift? Did you buy it?”
Xia Xun took out an inkstone, put it on the table and pushed it towards him.
Qi Yan picked it up and took a look:
“This square inkstone is made of quality stone, with delicate lines and exquisite carvings. It is a good inkstone, one can see it at first glance. It must be expensive. But to use it as a wedding gift is a bit…”
Xia Xun said, “It’s not for my sister-in-law, it’s for you.”
Qi Yan said in surprise: “A gift for me? Of course I am very happy about it, but— why give me a gift?”
Xia Xun said lightly: “I saw Shaobo today. Did you arrange it too?”
Qi Yan was startled and replied:
“I did think that you might meet her, but I didn’t expect it to be so fast… So, she told you everything? Is this why you gave me the inkstone?”
Xia Xun said wistfully:
“Whether it is my sister-in-law or Shaobo, they have to thank you for what they have today. Just keep the inkstone, I bought it with your money anyway, and all the money in your money bag is spent.”
Qi Yan held the inkstone, unable to put it down:
“Looking at it now, I suddenly feel that this inkstone is much more precious.”
Xia Xun whispered:
“My eldest sister-in-law has remarried, and Shaobo is also self-reliant and no longer needs my protection. There are no more people in the capital that I worry about.”
Qi Yan slowly put down the inkstone.
The two of them sat opposite each other silently.
As the cool autumn breeze blew, Xia Xun couldn’t help coughing a few times. Qi Yan regained his senses, walked to the window and closed it, then slowly turned his head, trembling imperceptibly, and asked:
“Are you… leaving?”
Xia Xun did not say anything, but the answer was self-evident.
Qi Yan laughed, trying to appear strong.
“In Qingzhou before, you had too many opportunities to leave, but you didn’t leave. At that time, I thought you might have a wish, but now that you know your old acquaintances in the capital are all well, I guess, you want to go too…”
After a moment of silence, Xia Xun said slowly:
“The atmosphere in the capital is complicated, noisy and messy. Although Douzhou has many disadvantages, isn’t it a quiet town that is more suitable for me?”
Qi Yan frowned, unable to hide his sorrow.
“After so many things happened… you still don’t want to stay?”
Xia Xun lowered his eyes.
“I… don’t match the feng shui of the capital. You see, even the doctor said that I am not acclimatised—”
Qi Yan finally made up his mind; he took Xia Xun’s hand.
“Whether you are going to leave or not, I will take you to a place. In any case, before you go, I must tell you everything. You have the right to know everything.”
Xia Xun thought that Qi Yan was going to take him somewhere out of the mansion. He guessed that maybe he was going to take him to the tomb of his parents.
But Qi Yan didn’t.
He took his hand, walked up to the antique shelf in the study and turned a porcelain vase on the shelf.
As the porcelain vase rotated, the antique shelf moved forward, and a secret door suddenly appeared on the wall behind it.
Qi Yan opened the door and led him into the dark room behind the door.
As soon as he entered, even before he could see what was in the room, Xia Xun smelled a lingering scent of sandalwood. He blinked, his eyes gradually adapting to the darkness.
The room was not large, and a niche was embedded in the north-facing wall. The niche actually enshrined Xia Xun’s memorial tablet.
Qi Yan said quietly:
“I also erected a tablet for you at Baohong Temple, but I didn’t think it was enough. I set up a big one at home. I would come to offer incense to you every day, every day…”
He choked and couldn’t continue speaking.
Xia Xun walked up to the shrine and saw a wooden figurine of a man standing next to the incense burner. The wooden man’s facial features were ninety percent similar to his.
“Is this me…?” He asked, “Did you… carve it?”
Qi Yan said: “It took me many years and nearly a hundred pieces of wood to make the one that looked like you. ”
Xia Xun murmured:
“Why… didn’t you hate my parents so much? Didn’t you hate me so much that you even refused to come to see me for the last time? What were you doing this for?”
Qi Yan’s words were full of anguish:
“—I was going to save you.”
Seven years ago, on the day of Xia Xing’s funeral, in Qi Yan’s small courtyard.
Xia Xun had just fallen asleep, and before going to bed, he told Qi Yan that he would return to Xia Mansion tomorrow.
Qi Yan agreed.
After Xia Xun fell asleep, he changed into his official uniform and went to the palace with Qi Hui.
It was not yet dawn, but the young emperor was already handling government affairs in the imperial study.
Qi Yan waited outside for a long time before he was invited to enter.
He kowtowed and knelt in front of the emperor’s table in the small area that was illuminated by candlelight.
The emperor’s voice came from above his head:
“I have already drawn up the decree to deal with Xia Hongxi. Tomorrow you can take the decree to Xia Mansion to seize him.”
He moved his finger, and the eunuch immediately handed the decree to Qi Yan.
Qi Yan quickly scanned the contents of the imperial decree and broke into a cold sweat after just a few glances.
The emperor’s meaning was quite clear. He wanted to cut off the grass and eliminate the roots. All members of the Xia family were to be beheaded in public, leaving none behind.
Qi Yan closed the decree and returned it to the eunuch. His mind was running so fast that he managed to come up with countermeasures in a few breaths.
“Your Majesty, this official has a request and hopes Your Majesty will allow it.”
The emperor didn’t even raise his head.
“What? Do you think my punishment is too light? ”
Qi Yan knocked his head on the ground.
“This official doesn’t dare, this official just hopes… just hopes Your Majesty can spare Xia Hongxi’s two sons from the death penalty.”
The emperor was a little surprised.
“I thought you hated Xia Hongxi and looked forward to me destroying all his kin. Why did your heart soften now?”
Qi Yan said solemnly:
“This official has carefully investigated the matter. Xia Xun, the third son of the Xia family, is actually a son of a commoner and is not favoured at home. It is impossible for Xia Hongxi to share any information about water transportation with him. He is also only sixteen years old. Taking into account his age, it is impossible for him and Xia Hongxi to jointly plan and use water transportation for personal gain, so this official dares to guarantee that he has no knowledge of Xia Hongxi’s crimes, no need for Your Majesty to doubt!”
The emperor’s expression gradually became solemn.
“What about his eldest son Xia Wen? Did he not know either?”
Qi Yan kowtowed again.
“This official verified that Xia Wen was born to Xia Hongxi’s deceased wife. He made no achievements in the imperial court and did not serve in the water transportation department. Therefore, this official thinks that he is probably innocent too!”
The emperor threw his brush down.
“Ridiculous! It’s nonsense! You mean, Xia Hongxi’s sons are all innocent! The crime was committed by Xia Hongxi alone. If I want to punish him, I can punish him but not involve others, right?! Then I ask you, did Xia Wen and Xia Xun grow up in Xia Mansion? Did Xia Hongxi feed and clothed them? But where did Xia Hongxi’s money come from? Was it not from water transportation? Even if his sons didn’t know anything about it, every piece of cloth they wore and every grain of rice they ate were all bought by Xia Hongxi! Every coin spent by everyone in Xia Hongxi’s family came from the official silver of the imperial court! Now you tell me, are the two of them innocent?!”
Qi Yan knocked his head on the floor with a bang, a thin trickle of blood appearing on his forehead.
“Your Majesty! There is nothing wrong with what Your Majesty said, but this official also wants to ask Your Majesty, if Xia Xun can choose, would he choose to be Xia Hongxi’s son? No matter what Your Majesty does with Xia Hongxi, he deserves it! But this official believes that Your Majesty is a wise monarch and gives the rewards and the punishments that are clearly deserved! Your Majesty will not hand down a disproportionate punishment for the crime and make those who have only committed slight misdemeanours lose their lives in vain! ”
The emperor narrowed his eyes, suddenly full of doubts.
“Official Qi, you come here today to plead for the two of them… Did you receive any benefits from them?!”
Qi Yan said calmly：
“Your Majesty! It is possible for anyone in the world to accept money from the Xia family and intercede for them, but it is impossible for this official. Xia Hongxi killed my parents and brother, and my hatred of him is deadly! I would drink his blood and eat his flesh if I could! What I said today is only to protect Your Majesty’s name as a wise ruler! Otherwise, I could have accepted the decree and just waited until tomorrow to see the heads of the Xia family fall to the ground! Why risk losing my head and disobeying the will of the Son of Heaven? I hope Your Majesty will understand!”
The emperor’s expression was doubtful. Qi Yan’s words were not unreasonable, but he suspected his true motives were different.
After a while, the emperor spoke again and agreed to let the two sons of the Xia family live.
“I won’t kill the two of them, but if the death penalty can be exempted, the punishment for the living is impossible to escape! Also, if I find that you have any secret involvement with those two, I will immediately execute all three of you together!”
Qi Yan replied in a loud voice:
“Please rest assured, Your Majesty, if I have any involvement with the two sons of the Xia family, there is no need for Your Majesty to punish me, I will come and receive the punishment myself!”
The emperor sighed, picked up the brush again and turned his attention to another memorial in his hand.
“…Fine, you can go down. Tomorrow you will personally lead the troops and take Xia Hongxi’s head for me.”
Qi Yan finally knocked his head.
“This official received the order and is grateful!”
Qi Hui was waiting under the porch, and when he saw Qi Yan coming out, he immediately stepped forward to help.
When he took a closer look, he saw that Qi Yan’s forehead was bleeding. He asked in surprise:
“My lord, how was it just now?? Is it done?!”
Qi Yan half leaned on Qi Hui and let out a long breath.
Qi Hui found a handkerchief and wiped the blood from his forehead.
Qi Yan pressed the handkerchief to his forehead, feeling relieved.
“Xia Xun’s life is saved for now.”